An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Sarasota County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Florida disasters command huge share of state spending

Disasters which rocked Florida last year are now complicating efforts to finalize a new state spending plan, with Hurricane Michael recovery and work to ease toxic water outbreaks commanding a huge share of the $90-billion budget.

TALLAHASSEE — Disasters that rocked Florida last year are now complicating efforts to finalize a new state spending plan, with Hurricane Michael recovery and work to ease toxic water outbreaks commanding a huge share of the $90 billion budget.

As a result, money for schools is tight. Some hospitals are facing cuts.

And even the tax-break package the Republican majority traditionally touts has been downsized to make money available for environmental work across the state and rebuild the devastated eastern Panhandle.

But with some $2.5 billion certain to be committed to last year’s twin disasters, some still wonder, is it enough?

“I think truth be told, when you look at some of our infrastructure, wastewater and storm-water problems — as long as we have discharges of raw sewage in the tens of thousands of gallons — we have not fully addressed the problem,” said Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.

“It’s going to be a multi-year, very expensive project,” he added.

Indeed, data analyzed by GateHouse Media-Florida shows state waterways have been fouled by some 980 million gallons of wastewater over the past decade, with sewage spills occurring at the rate of six per day.

Court orders EPA to reevaluate Obama-era power plant wastewater rule

A federal appeals court is sending the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back to the drawing board over its wastewater regulations in a ruling that compares them to a Commodore 64 home computer.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled on Friday that the EPA’s 2015 power plant wastewater pollution rule was not stringent enough, siding with environmentalists.

Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan ruled in favor of various environmental groups that portions of the wastewater rule regulating legacy wastewater and liquid from impoundments were “unlawful.”

“The Clean Water Act ... empowers the Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate and enforce rules known as 'effluent limitation guidelines' or 'ELGs.' ... For quite some time, ELGs for steam-electric power plants have been, in EPA’s words, 'out of date.' ... That is a charitable understatement,” Duncan wrote in his ruling.

“The last time these guidelines were updated was during the second year of President Reagan’s first term, the same year that saw the release of the first CD player, the Sony Watchman pocket television, and the Commodore 64 home computer. In other words, 1982."

As oceans rapidly warm, an urgent need to improve hurricane forecasts

Better hurricane forecasts require near-real-time, deep-ocean monitoring

In the past two hurricane seasons, record-breaking floods have engulfed our coastal zones in the Carolinas and Texas as storms have drawn more water and grown larger from rapidly warming oceans.

As the climate system continues to warm, we will need better prediction systems so we can prepare vulnerable coastal areas for bigger, wetter and faster-strengthening hurricanes. Hurricane season is just six weeks away.

Recent studies confirm that warming of the world’s oceans is taking place faster than previously estimated — as much as 40 percent faster than the United Nations estimated in 2015.

Research confirms that roughly 93 percent of the warming from man-made greenhouse gases is going into the world’s oceans. About two-thirds is absorbed in the ocean’s top 700 meters, noted Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth. This is the layer from which hurricanes draw much of their energy.

Applying for a Neighborhood Initiative Grant? Attend a seminar by April 30th.

Only two application seminars remain for this cycle. Attendance at one of these seminars is the first step in applying for a Neighborhood Initiative Grant. The two-hour seminars cover the history and objectives of the grant program, timeline and processes, and application instructions. Pre-registration is required by emailing neighbor@scgov.net with your desired seminar date/location, your name, your neighborhood, and the number of people in your party.

Certificates of completion are valid for three years.

Remaining seminars:
 •  Tuesday, April 30 at 10:30am - Fruitville Library, 100 Coburn Rd, Sarasota
 •  Tuesday, April 30 at 5:30pm - County Administration Center, 1660 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota

Application seminars are now approved for 2.0 CEU for Community Association Managers.

News about a prior recipient of a Neighborhood Initiative Grant:

An update from the Serenoa Community Association, which recently held a volunteer day as part of their landscaping grant. Sounds like a good time was had by all!

Saturday morning we had our community work day in preparation for our landscape project to begin on April 22. When we were beginning the process, [we] were very concerned that there would be no one to help us out. Our community has many snow birds and our population is, to be tactful, not youthful.

But, Saturday morning at 9am, 38 people showed up with clippers, rakes, ladders, pole saws and even chain saws and pick up trucks to trim our oaks, clean up the area to be planted, and remove Spanish moss. We were done by noon.

We are so very happy to have had so many volunteers, many of whom do not even work in their own yards! I am sure the average age for our industrious group was over 70 years old, with several being over 80. We met many new residents; it was a cheerful occasion (much like a barn raising), and no one was injured! This has really turned into something we weren't expecting for our community.

North Port to celebrate Warm Mineral Springs’ birthday with free admission

The City is celebrating its 60th Anniversary by waiving daily admission at Warm Mineral Springs Park for all Sarasota County residents on Tuesday, June 18, 2019! The park will be open for visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The only warm spring in Florida, it maintains 85-87 degrees year-round and contains more than 50 different minerals – one of the highest mineral content of any natural spring in the United States. The park averages approximately 110,000 visitors per year from all over the world, who travel to swim in its mineral-rich waters.

Beneath the Spring’s depths is one of the most important underwater archeological sites in America. It is believed that the Spring dates to the Ice Age. During exploratory dives in the 1950s, the remains of a prehistoric man and evidence of several creatures were discovered, including saber tooth tigers, giant sloths, tortoises, and even camels. The Springs are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Warm Mineral Springs Park is owned by the City of North Port and operated by National & State Park Concessions. Proof of Sarasota County residence will be required for admission into the Springs on June 18. Acceptable proof of residence includes a driver’s license or an FPL bill, water bill, tax bill, or deed. Spa services are not included in the free admission and must be booked in advance and paid for separately.

For more information about Warm Mineral Springs Park, including general rules and prohibited items, visit www.cityofnorthport.com/warmmineralspringspark or call 941-426-1692.

Sarasota Tiger Bay panel addresses water quality problems

They offer their thoughts on how to tackle the issues.

A panel of community leaders and environmental experts delved into some of the water quality issues that have risen to the forefront locally and across Florida over the last year, and offered thoughts on how to tackle them Thursday during a Sarasota Tiger Bay Club event.

The spate of algae blooms that choked Florida waterways in recent months have made water quality a top concern in many communities, including Sarasota and Manatee counties, where the latest red tide bloom was one of the worst on record.

Much of the public discussion has focused on how to limit excess nutrients from flowing into water bodies and feeding algae blooms.

Among the ideas suggested Thursday: Better wastewater treatment and stormwater management and more aggressive efforts to limit farm runoff.

USF study: Ocean circulation likely to blame for severity of 2018 red tide

robotic glider

2018 was the worst year for red tide in more than a decade. A new study reveals what made it so severe.

The harmful algae that causes red tide is currently at near undetectable levels in Florida waters compared with the much higher concentrations at this time last year. The red tide algae, Karenia brevis, causes respiratory issues, is responsible for massive fish kills and is often blamed for damaging tourism.

While traces of the bloom are always present offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans finds ocean circulation made 2018 the worst year for red tide in more than a decade.

By affecting the nutrient levels offshore, marine scientists at the University of South Florida (USF) showed that the ocean circulation played a controlling role. If nutrient levels offshore are high in spring due to the upwelling of deeper ocean waters, then there tends not to be major red tide blooms along the shoreline in fall. Such upwelling did not occur in winter and spring of 2018, allowing a new bloom to form offshore in spring and summer 2018. An upwelling circulation then set in toward the end of July, ensuring that the newly formed bloom would be carried to the coastline along the bottom where it reinforced what had already been in place from 2017.

Tropical Storm Gordon temporarily disrupted the upwelling circulation, allowing some of the new bloom to be carried to the Florida Panhandle. After the passage of Gordon, the upwelling circulation then allowed the bloom to be transported offshore at the surface to eventually be carried to the Florida's east coast by the Gulf Stream. Thus, the rare occurrence of Karenia brevis at three different locations (Florida's west, Panhandle and east coasts) may be attributed to the ocean circulation.

"This further demonstrates that the ocean circulation is the major determinant of Florida's Karenia brevis harmful algae blooms, dispelling the myth that land-based fertilizers are to blame," said Robert Weisberg, PhD, Distinguished University Professor of Physical Oceanography. "While pollutants can exasperate an existing red tide, they are not the root cause."
 
In addition to ocean circulation models, the team at USF and collaborators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) deployed an autonomous underwater glider for a near month-long mission. Its sensors detected relatively high chlorophyll and low oxygen levels near the sea floor, along with upwelling circulation. On-site sampling also helped pinpoint the initiation zone for all three regions to be the middle shelf some 30 to 50 miles off the coast from north of Tampa Bay to Sarasota Bay.
 
Weisberg and his colleagues have accounted for the occurrence or lack of occurrence of major red tide blooms in 20 of the past 25 years based on the ocean circulation conditions. While recent sampling shows very low concentrations of Karenia brevis offshore, which is not a cause for immediate concern, it is too early to speculate on what future conditions may be. Weisberg expects to have a better idea of the possible severity of 2019's red tide season in mid-June.

Bayfront Park seawall project delayed, still planned

Two-year state experiment with special seawall and oysters focuses on coastal wildlife habitat.

An environmental project at Bayfront Park is still planned, but its installation has been set back because of 2018’s widespread red tide bloom along Florida's gulf coast and the state-permitting process, according to Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.

The project to install two seawall alternatives is designed to examine ways to ensure sea life is safe when shorelines are hardened, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The overall project’s $180,000 cost is funded entirely by the state, and no town money is involved.

The pilot program involves installing a “reef wall’’ along 100 feet of the face of the park’s existing seawall, 100 feet of oyster bags along a second stretch of seawall and leaving the remainder of seawall and mangrove shoreline unchanged.

The “reef wall” is a concrete relief of mangrove roots meant to emulate the nooks and crannies of a natural stretch of mangrove, in which animals and other organisms can shelter and grow. The brainchild of a University of Kansas professor, the walls are modeled from actual mangroves, then formed from a concrete blend that's mixed with crushed shells.

In Englewood, the walls have been in place along Lemon Bay since 2017. Operators of the resort at which the walls were installed say they've seen an upswing in life along their shoreline.

Seven things you can do to help mitigate red tide

From choosing the right plants to volunteering on the beach, there are a variety of things Sarasota and Manatee county residents can do.

Has the recent red tide bloom inspired you to find ways to help your community? Take a look at seven things you can do pretty much everyday to help.

  1. Download a red tide reporting app
  2. Contact legislators
  3. Dispose of garbage properly
  4. Donate to research
  5. Choose your landscape well
  6. Be smart with your water
  7. Volunteer with a conservation group

Sarasota County hosting Water Quality Summit

Summit will be June 5th at Riverview High School

Sarasota County will host a free and open to the public Water Quality Summit from 1-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 5. The summit, which will be in the Riverview High School auditorium, 1 Ram Way, Sarasota, is an effort to bring the community together with organizations working to protect area watersheds and to learn about science and actions occurring locally.

The summit's goal is to enhance the community's understanding of local and state efforts to address water quality issues. The summit will focus on the science of water quality and current local and state government programs and policies. It will also address ways the community can make a difference with suggestions for individuals, business and neighborhoods.

"Water quality is a priority issue both locally and across the state," said Lee-Hayes Byron, director of Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. "We look forward to this opportunity for discussion with our residents and business who care so deeply about our local waters."

Seating is limited and registration is required. For additional details about the summit and to register, visit scgov.net/waterqualitysummit or call the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.

2019 Seagrass Survey is moving to a new location! (UPDATED)

Seagrass flyer

 
UPDATE: The 2019 Seagrass Survey & Festival have been postponed to a date to be announced.


This year's Seagrass Survey and Seagrass Festival events, which will take place on Saturday, April 27th, are changing venues.

The Survey and Festival are moving across Sarasota Bay to the US Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla , adjacent to Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

The Seagrass Survey is a FREE, citizen-science event that encourages community members to explore the beautiful and mysterious seagrass habitats while increasing awareness of the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of seagrass ecosystems in Sarasota Bay. We need volunteers to take to the waters in Sarasota Bay to survey seagrass habitats and collect data which contributes to Sarasota County’s Seagrass Monitoring Program.

Following the Seagrass Survey, stay for a nature festival back on land. This FREE, family-friendly festival will feature educational exhibits, hands-on activities, music, food, and more. Wading trips to explore the creatures that live in the seagrass flats will be available for registration. On the trip, participants could find small fish, crabs, sea stars, urchins, and many more species!

To learn more about the role seagrass plays in Sarasota Bay's aquatic environment, and about how the health of seagrass is monitored, visit the “Sarasota Seagrass” page on the Water Atlas website.

Water quality monitor volunteers needed

The health of Lemon Bay is important to us all and each month volunteers monitor the water quality at sites from Alligator Creek in Venice to Bull Bay in Placida to see that it stays that way.

On the 1st Monday of each month, trained volunteers travel to one of 16 “fixed” sites (sites already pre-determined) to test the water for various parameters such as pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, etc. This information is collected and stored in a database with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and is made available to many organizations and agencies to help maintain good water quality in Lemon Bay.

All volunteers are trained and all equipment is provided. Most sites are land-based and no boat is necessary. All that is need is an interest in our waters and a commitment of 1-2 hours per month.

A training session for those interested in assisting in the Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Network will be conducted at Cedar Point Environmental Park on Thursday, May 2 at 10.00 am. The park is located at 2300 Placida Road, Englewood, Florida. Call (941) 475-0769 for further information.

Giant storms, aging infrastructure pushing Florida’s sewer systems to breaking point

More than 900,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed into Sarasota Bay after a violent December storm forced open a city pipe.

Summer rain in Daytona Beach and equipment failure in Jacksonville each prompted more than a quarter-million gallons of human waste to spill from sewers last year.

In Boca Raton, a pressurized pipe gushed out nearly 50,000 gallons of untreated wastewater, while another 55,000 gallons spewed from a DeFuniak Springs manhole into nearby Bruce Creek.

These sewage spills are emblematic of failing wastewater systems across Florida, which is grappling with aging infrastructure and no clear solutions for funding a fix.

During the past decade, deteriorating sewers have released 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater, much of it polluting the state’s estuaries and oceans, according to a GateHouse Media analysis of state environmental data.

More than 370 million gallons of that was completely untreated.

Experts say the sewage has fed the blue-green algae blooms wreaking havoc on Florida estuaries and exacerbated red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Amid historic growth in Florida, environmentalists fear it will only get worse.

“We are at a point where sewers need to be replaced, and have been for some time now,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of Manasota-88, an environmental advocacy organization in Southwest Florida. “Until the local governments make it a priority, we are going to continue seeing these spills. Something needs to be done.”

Sarasota County greenlights joint Manasota Key beach renourishment project with Charlotte County

SARASOTA COUNTY — Residents on Manasota Key who fear their homes could be washed away by the Gulf of Mexico will finally get the protection they desperately need for their properties.

The Sarasota County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a joint beach renourishment project with Charlotte County that would restore roughly 50 feet of sand to the shoreline on a four-mile stretch from Blind Pass Park in Sarasota County to Don Pedro-Knight Islands Beach in Charlotte County. The total cost of the joint project is estimated at $35.3 million. The Sarasota County side — extending from Blind Pass Park to the Charlotte County line and including 50 beachfront homes — has a projected price tag of roughly $8.1 million with the state expected to cover a portion of the cost. About 309,000 cubic yards of sand would be added to the beach in Sarasota County, county documents show.

The Charlotte County side of the project — which has already received approval from the jurisdiction’s commission — is expected to cost just more than $27 million, which includes potential contributions from the state and federal government, documents show. Roughly 879,000 cubic yards of sand would be used for the entire joint project. The sand would be taken from nearby offshore areas, with work expected to begin in November, Sarasota County officials said Tuesday.

Florida DOH emails show agency struggled to manage algae crisis

With toxic algae fouling Southwest Florida’s inland waterways and coastline last year, state health officials faced a flood of worried questions as people turned to them for crisis leadership.

Some were specific: Were Caloosahatchee blue crabs safe to eat? Was it dangerous to breathe near the algae-choked canals? How about swimming in the Gulf?

Others were systemic: Who posts warning signs? Was any agency monitoring illness reports? Would water and air be tested for toxins?

As red tide devastated wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico from Sarasota to the Ten Thousand Islands, a simultaneous outbreak of blue-green algae contaminated the Caloosahatchee watershed. Images of bloated dolphin carcasses and people jet-boating through algae blooms filled news reports. Social media seethed with rumors and petitions. Former Gov. Rick Scott declared two states of emergency - one for each bloom.

Red tide life cycle hits four stages

From agriculture to storms, there are questions surrounding what factors actually influence red tide and its intensity.

While much research still needs to be done on the life cycle of red tide blooms, representatives from Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission share the science behind them. We explain the life cycle of a bloom, through its four known stages: initiation, growth, maintenance and termination. Also, we present some of the factors that can contribute to red tide blooms.

Mote and FGCU partner on red tide research

Sarasota marine laboratory and Florida Gulf Coast University collaborate to address harmful algal blooms.

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and Florida Gulf Coast University signed an agreement Thursday to start a partnership that addresses impacts of harmful algal blooms to Florida’s environment, economy and quality of life.

The memorandum of understanding, signed by Mote President and CEO Michael P. Crosby and FGCU President Michael V. Martin, sets the framework for future collaboration on an issue that pummeled the region last year with a widespread red tide bloom that lasted 18 months.

Karenia brevis is a single-celled plant-like organism that is carried to shore through environmental conditions such as wind and ocean currents. Scientists debate whether nutrient pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, allows it to reproduce close to shore.

The toxic algae prefer warm and calm salt water. When the red tide cells die, they emit a brevetoxin that kills sea life, including 589 sea turtles during the last episode — the most in any single red tide event — along with 213 manatees and 153 bottlenose dolphins since July 2018.

The beach on Lido Key is back

Beach visitors can now sit and play in the sand that was underwater a few weeks ago.

After nearly two months of weather delays, the beach re-nourishment project on Lido Key is done.

Beach visitors can now sit and play in the sand that was underwater a few weeks ago.

Even though beachgoers are happy, city officials said this doesn’t solve their erosion problem.

“It’s beautiful to have the beach back,”  timeshare owner Cheryl Zorn said. 

In December, the surf crashed into buildings during a strong cold front and caused flooding. City officials said the new sand is just a band-aid for the erosion problem on Lido Key.

That big project is dredging Big Pass between Lido Key and Siesta Key.

While dredging Big Pass seems to be a simple solution, litigation issues have the project tied up.

Since the pass has never been dredged before, some residents said they are worried it would disrupt the flow of sand to Siesta Key and harm marine life.

The city and the Army Corps of Engineers said studies show no harm will be done by dredging. The $19 million project includes a berm to protect the sand and dredging every five years or as needed to keep the beach they just got back.

City officials said the Army Corps of Engineers dredging project of Big Pass will start this fall no matter what is happening in court. They have the permits to move forward.

Sarasota joins nationwide challenge to be most ‘water wise’

SARASOTA – Mayor Liz Alpert and the City of Sarasota are joining mayors and communities across the country in asking residents to make a long-term commitment to manage water resources more wisely by taking part in the annual Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

In return, residents can win $3,000 toward their home utility payments, water saving fixtures and hundreds of other prizes. Plus, one lucky charity from a winning city will receive a 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to serve the community.

The annual challenge, April 1-30, is a non-profit national community service campaign that encourages leaders to inspire their residents to make a series of simple pledges at mywaterpledge.com to use water more efficiently, reduce pollution and save energy.

“The City of Sarasota, my fellow commissioners and I and the citizens we serve all care deeply about protecting our environment,” Alpert said. “I hope our residents will join me in taking this pledge and doing their part to conserve this precious natural resource.”

Last year, residents from over 3,800 cities in all 50 states pledged to reduce their annual consumption of freshwater by 3 billion gallons, reduce waste sent to landfills by 79.9 million pounds and prevent more than 177,000 pounds of hazardous waste from entering our watersheds.

“Not only is this a great program for water conservation, but it also aligns with the City’s commitment to reducing our reliance on non-renewable energy through our Ready for 100 initiative,” said Sustainability Manager Stevie Freeman-Montes. “Wastewater pumping and treatment accounts for a majority of our energy consumption as a City, so a reduction in water use by the community will have the added benefit of limiting our energy use.”

To participate, residents can go to

Senate outlines $1.7 billion environmental spending plan

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government unveiled the Senate’s $1.7 billion environmental protection budget this morning and accepted it without comment.

“This is the day we’ve all been waiting for. It’s like Christmas," Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, said. “Everybody’s been up all night waiting for this.”

The environmental budget is part of a $5.9 billion package that includes spending plans for other state departments, including Business and Professional Regulation, Agriculture and Consumer Services, Citrus, Fish and Wildlife Conservation, the Lottery, Insurance Regulation, Financial Services, the Public Service Commission and Management Services.

Eutrophication of lakes will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions

What's wrong with being green? Toxins released by algal blooms can ruin drinking water. When dense algae blooms die, the bacteria that decompose the algae also deplete oxygen in the water. Without oxygen, fish and other animals suffocate. Globally, such green waters are also an important contributor to atmospheric methane -- a greenhouse gas that is up to 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"We estimate that the greening of the world's lakes will increase the emission of methane into the atmosphere by 30 to 90 percent during the next 100 years," said Jake Beaulieu of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and lead author of a paper on lake greening and greenhouse gas emissions published March 26, 2019 in the journal Nature Communications.

According to the authors, three distinct mechanisms are expected to induce increases in lake greening or eutrophication during the next 100 years. First, human populations are expected to increase by 50 percent by 2100. More people means more sewage and more fertilizers that runoff land. At current rates of population growth and climate change, eutrophication in lakes will increase by 25 to 200 percent by 2050 and double or quadruple by 2100.

Sarasota County considers joint beach rebuild for Manasota Key

Property owners whose homes are exposed to Gulf of Mexico waters because of critical erosion on Manasota Key could soon see some relief if the Sarasota County Commission approves a joint beach renourishment project with Charlotte County.

The Sarasota County Commission on April 9 is expected to consider the joint project, which would restore roughly 50 feet of sand to the shoreline on a four-mile stretch from Blind Pass Park in Sarasota County to Don Pedro-Knight Islands Beach in Charlotte County. The total cost of the joint project is estimated at $35.3 million. The Sarasota County side has a projected cost of $7.7 million with the state covering $2.7 million, if the Legislature allocates the funding this session, according to Sarasota County documents. The Charlotte County side of the project is expected to cost just over $27 million, which includes a potential $9.4 million contribution from the state and an additional $1 million from the federal government, documents show.

Roughly 879,000 cubic yards of sand would be used for the joint project, according to county documents. The sand would be taken from nearby offshore borrow areas. If both commissions sign on, the project could start sometime next year, documents show.

Officials from both counties have said that joining forces to make the renourishment a regional project increases the chances of securing state funding. The regional project currently ranks third on the state’s list of requests, making it likely the funding from Florida will come through, officials said last month at a joint meeting between the two commissions.

The erosion in some areas has become so severe that some structures are in danger, Rachel Herman, Sarasota County’s division manager of environmental protection, said.

“There are a couple of structures that have become undermined, their foundations have become exposed,” Herman said. “Fortunately we&rsq

New for Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis names chief science officer

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday appointed a prominent biologist as the state’s first chief science officer, a new position the governor created as part of his focus on the environment.

Thomas Frazer, director of the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and former acting director of the UF Water Institute, will take the job in the state Department of Environmental Protection. His initial focus will be water, particularly the algae blooms that have plagued parts of the state’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts, affected fishing, swimming, tourism and wildlife.

“Obviously as many of you know, we have had persistent water problems, and I’ve been very clear that the time for us to address this is now,” the governor said at a news conference at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. “We have taken action. We’re going to take more today.”

Frazer said he understood that addressing the water problems would be his priority.

Sarasota County Commission addresses wastewater spills

Millions of gallons have been dumped from a Bee Ridge facility.

SARASOTA COUNTY — Local lawmakers for the first time on Friday publicly weighed in on issues plaguing the county’s largest wastewater plant following recent revelations millions of gallons of treated wastewater have been repeatedly dumped from the facility for years.

The Sarasota County Commission during a budget workshop on Friday applauded measures the county is taking to prevent more spills, while also acknowledging there’s more to be done to prevent the reoccurring problem.

It’s the first time commissioners publicly addressed the issue since the Herald-Tribune on March 20 reported clean water advocacy groups SunCoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation gave the county a required 60-day notice in late February of their plan to sue unless the county remedies the issues causing the spills.

The suit would allege that the county violated the federal Clean Water Act by repeatedly discharging treated wastewater from the Bee Ridge Wastewater Reclamation Facility and for repeated spills of raw and partially treated sewage throughout the county’s collection system and at its treatment plants.

‘Red Tide Summit’ on Indian Rocks Beach addresses public concerns

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Harmful algal blooms (HABs), commonly known as red tides, are natural phenomena that have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico throughout human history. Last year’s red tide, which started in 2017, was a particularly epic incident that killed fish and other precious marine life, along with much tourism-driven business along the west Florida coast.

In response, Pinellas County and the City of Indian Rocks Beach held a Red Tide Summit March 28th at the Sheraton Sand Key resort in Clearwater. The USF College of Marine Science (CMS) panelists included Dr. Robert Weisberg, Distinguished Professor, and long ago CMS grad Kelli Hammer Levy, who managed a highly praised response effort to last year’s epic spill in her position as Division Director for Pinellas County Environmental Management.

Weisberg explained that ocean circulation determines the location of a red tide. Levy recalled that when signs of the bloom came to bear, she called Weisberg, who warned that based on his models this was likely to be a “significant event.” Indeed it was. After reviewing the county’s impressive response to the spill, Levy asked the audience to commit to reducing nutrient pollution.

Sarasota County faces lawsuit over 800 million gallons of dumped processed wastewater

Several environmental groups are threatening to sue the county for dumping hundreds of millions of gallons of treated wastewater for years, in turn polluting local waterways and jeopardizing the the public’s health, if the jurisdiction fails to clean up its act.

Clean water advocacy groups SunCoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation gave the county a required 60-day notice on Feb. 20 of its plan to sue unless the county remedies the issues causing the spills. The suit would allege that the county violated the federal Clean Water Act by repeatedly discharging treated wastewater from the Bee Ridge Wastewater Reclamation Facility and for repeated spills of raw and partially treated sewage throughout the county’s collection system and at its treatment plants.

The county has been aware since at least 2013 of the need to increase storage capacity at the Bee Ridge Reclamation Facility, yet it has discharged more than 800 million gallons of reuse water from a storage pond at its utility site at 5550 Lorraine Road, the letter from the groups’ attorney and SunCoast Waterkeeper founder Justin Bloom states. One lengthy episode of spills from a pond on the site that can hold up to 170 million gallons of treated wastewater occurred from December until March, dumping more than 218 million gallons of water over the pond’s brim, said Bloom, citing spill reports from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The reclaimed water is the result of a processing wastewater to the point it can be reused for landscape irrigation. Eight hundred million gallons of water is equivalent to roughly 1,211 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which consist of around 660,200 gallons.

Bloom claims the county has failed to take corrective action to stop the discharges, by expanding its storage capacity or upgrading its facility to an advanced wastewater treatment system — similar to

Dolphins with brain disease also test positive for algae toxin: study

Toxins produced from nasty blue-green algae made an appearance in dead dolphins that tested positive for brain disease.

The Miami Herald reports a University of Miami study found in all but one of the 14 dolphins it examined, the BMAA toxin was detectable in those that showed signs of degenerative damage similar to Alzheimer's in humans.

The one dolphin died from a boat strike.

Researchers are trying to figure out to what extent the algae's toxins, which have plagued Florida's waterways in recent years, threaten human health. It is concerning enough as dolphins are considered a sentinel species -- one that could give warning of issues that might affect humans. 

FGCU launches ‘Water School’ to provide the tools to combat blue-green algae, dead fish

FORT MYERS BEACH – Dead fish washing up on our beaches was a scene all too common last year. Now, Florida Gulf Coast University is making sure the next generation of researchers have the tools they need to solve the problem.

Solving the water crisis begins with education, which is why FGCU created the Water School. Students can focus on different areas of research, these include climate change, ecosystem health, well being, natural resources and restoration.

When classes are not being held outside, students will be immersed in labs held in a brand new building dedicated to water research, which will bring in top scientists from across the globe.

“We all have an inherent need for this water and to be able to take care of it we’re going to everyone from every discipline every background,” said Kai Sacco, an FGCU student.

“The truth is the real problems that we face are incredibly complex and they’re only going to be solved if we’re able to get out of those boxes and work together,” said Dr. Win Everham, FGCU professor of Environmental Studies.

To solve those problems, FGCU is giving researchers the tools to combat the blue-green algae and dead fish that affected businesses on the water earlier this year. Businesses along the beach were directly affected by the quality of water.

As coastal flooding surges, ‘living shorelines’ seen as the answer

On August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene crashed into North Carolina, eviscerating the Outer Banks. The storm dumped rain shin-high and hurled three-meter storm surges against the barrier island shores that faced the mainland, destroying roads and 1,100 homes.

After the storm, a young ecologist then at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill named Rachel K. Gittman decided to survey the affected areas. Gittman had worked as an environmental consultant for the U.S. Navy on a shoreline-stabilization project and had been shocked to discover how little information existed on coastal resilience. “The more I researched, the more I realized that we just don’t know very much,” she explains. “So much policy and management is being made without the underlying science.” She decided to make shorelines her specialty.

What Gittman found was eye-opening. Along the hard-hit shorelines, three quarters of the bulkheads—typically concrete walls about two meters high that are the standard homeowner defense against the sea in many parts of the country—were damaged. Yet none of the natural marsh shorelines were impaired. The marshes, which extended 10 to 40 meters from the shore, had lost no sediment or elevation from Irene. Although the storm initially reduced the density of their vegetation by more than a third, a year later the greenery had bounced back and was as thick as ever in many cases.

Gittman’s study confirmed what many experts had begun to suspect. “Armored” shorelines such as bulkheads offer less protection against big storms than people think. By reflecting wave energy instead of dispersing it, they tend to wear away at the base, which causes them to gradually tilt seaward. Although they still function well in typical storms, they often backfire when high storm surges overtop them, causing them to breach or collapse, releasing an entire backyard into the sea.

FGCU Study: Airborne toxic cyanobacteria can travel more than a mile inland

FGCU research released Friday shows airborne cyanobacteria toxins can travel more than a mile inland, raising questions about health consequences for those exposed to the region’s recent massive blue-green algae blooms last year.

A bloom of Microcystis aeruginosa began in Lake Okeechobee in early June and was carried into the waters of the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River via discharges from the lake directed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The water had to move, the Corps explained, in order to prevent the Herbert Hoover Dike from failing and flooding the farming towns in the dike's shadow.

Scientists' air samplers found two blue-green algae toxins — Microcystin and BAMA — at the university’s Buckingham complex, said lead scientist Mike Parsons, a professor of marine biology. Both have been linked by some scientists to grave health problems, including liver cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.